The FBI finally caught up with James "Whitey" Bulger after he spent 16 years on the lam, but during his heyday as of the leader of the violent Winter Hill Gang, the notorious gangster relied on federal agents to elude arrest by local authorities, a former Massachusetts cop says.
Bulger was captured in Santa Monica, Calif., Wednesday, along with his longtime girlfriend, Catherine Greig, after an FBI media blitz resulted in a tip. He is expected to be returned home to Boston Friday, where he faces charges of murder, conspiracy, narcotics distribution, extortion and money laundering.
While his arrest has brought relief for many in law enforcement, frustration with the FBI on the part of local authorities has also resurfaced.
"There was numerous times throughout the years that they did look the other way, and actually, they assisted in giving him information that would help him avert detection," Col. Tom Foley, the retired head of the Massachusetts State Police, told "The Early Show."
Foley said Bulger's gang was "running rampant through Boston in the 70s, 80s and early 90s and they were the most vicious and dangerous organized crime group operating ... in the Boston area."
"It was time for them to be held accountable for what they were doing out there. There [were] numerous agencies in the Boston area, including state police and the [Drug Enforcement Agency], that made attempts to bring them to justice, and you know, they were fooled time and time again, until eventually, it became clear that they were operating as FBI informants."
Now Bulger's arrest threatens to bring up old scandals for the Boston FBI and others.
"If he starts to talk, there will be some unwelcome accountability on the part of a lot of people inside law enforcement," retired Massachusetts state police Maj. Tom Duffy told the Associated Press. "Let me put it this way: I wouldn't want my pension contingent on what he will say at this point."
Bulger's flight in early 1995 allegedly came after a tip from former Boston FBI Agent John Connolly Jr., who was convicted of racketeering and obstruction of justice in 2002 for protecting Bulger and his cohort Stephen "The Rifleman" Flemmi from prosecution. Both Bulger and Flemmi were FBI informants who ratted out members of their main rivals, the New England Mob.
During Connolly's trial, Bulger's right-hand man, Kevin Weeks, testified that Bulger boasted that he had corrupted six FBI agents and more than 20 Boston police officers. At holiday time, Bulger stuffed envelopes with cash, Weeks testified.
"He used to say that Christmas was for cops and kids," Weeks said.In 2006, Weeks sat down with "60 Minutes'" Ed Bradley to talk about his former mentor. Weeks described Bulger as a "disciplined" man who dedicated his waking hours to the pursuit of crime. He didn't enjoy alcohol, drugs, or gambling. According to Weeks, :
"He stabbed people, he beat people with bats, he shot people, strangled people, run them over with car," Weeks told Bradley. "After he would kill somebody, he'd--it was like a stress relief, you know? He'd be nice and calm for a couple of weeks afterwards, like he just got rid of all his stress."
Edward J. MacKenzie Jr., a former drug dealer and enforcer for Bulger, predicted that Bulger will disclose new details about FBI corruption and how agents protected him for so long.
"Whitey was no fool. He knew he would get caught. I think he'll have more fun pulling all those skeletons out of the closet," MacKenzie said.
"I think he'll start talking and he'll start taking people down."
Bulger, now 81, appeared briefly in federal court in Los Angeles Thursday, agreeing to waive extradition.
Neighbors were stunned to learn they had been living in the same building as the man who was the model for Jack Nicholson's ruthless crime boss in the 2006 Martin Scorsese movie, "The Departed."
Connolly, the retired FBI agent who was convicted of protecting Bulger, also was found guilty of murder in Miami for helping to set in motion a mob hit in 1982 against a business executive.
The Bulger arrest could have a huge impact on whether Connolly spends the rest of his life in a Florida prison. Connolly is set for release next Tuesday from a federal penitentiary after serving nearly 10 years for his Boston racketeering conviction.
But Connolly will be whisked to Florida right away to begin serving a 40-year sentence for his role in the slaying in Miami of gambling executive John Callahan. Connolly was convicted of murder in 2008 for tipping Bulger that Callahan was about implicate Bulger and Flemmi in the 1981 killing of Oklahoma businessman Roger Wheeler.
Connolly, who is appealing the conviction, insists he never fingered Callahan. Now, if Bulger backs up Connolly's story, it could change the outcome of the Florida case.
"If Bulger says that John (Connolly) had no involvement in the Callahan murder, then John will file a motion for new trial based on newly discovered evidence and should prevail," said Connolly's attorney Manuel Alvarez. "If that happens, we might see Whitey testifying in a Miami courtroom."